It seems to me that we have got things the wrong way around. Trying to drive screws with hammers is all we are doing when we try to suppress ego from the blind spot of misunderstanding. So many spiritual traditions and self-help books talk about the ego as if it is some sort of enemy or captor that must be either defeated or escaped from respectively. Some preach to us to totally abandon it while others didactically advise us to observe our negative thoughts as they pass in and out of our consciousness without becoming attached to them. But it seems to me that non-attachment is just another form of attachment and doesn’t lead to any understanding. Yet other approaches suggest starving the ego into submission as if it is some kind of wild beast that needs manners put on it.
The truth is that there is no escape because nothing is meant to be escaped from. Yet how is it that so many people see the ego as a negative entity in their lives and believe that the path to peace is to escape from it? How is it they have come to see their own creation as the enemy? What actually is ego anyway? It’s a good question to get us on the quest of self-discovery. The prevailing psychological view is that ego is some kind of fixed structure that every human being has been unfortunately burdened with. Ego suggests a computer program gone awry that programs itself recursively. Ego suggests an entity with a mind of its own. Ego suggests that whoever designed us made a total botch-up of the plans. Interestingly, people who achieve enlightenment are said to have shed their egos and emerged into the light. Good for them but I don’t believe in bypassing a creation that protects and serves.
The truth is that the utterances of the mind are anything but chaotic and are actually replete with meaning and compassionate in their intention. In fact, we need to give credit to their creator which is ourselves of course. In addition, we need to marvel at our creativity and welcome the gold-plated messengers that our thoughts are, whether they are positive or negative. You see, behind the veil of positive and negative lives wisdom. There is no such thing as positive or negative thinking. It is neither good nor bad just always wise. There is nothing stupid about human thinking. Our so-called negative thinking isn’t senseless nonsense. Actually, it is full of sense and meaning.
The truth is that there is no such thing as ego but just a wise creator within that is forever responding to the vagaries of life with wisdom and gravitas. This inner intelligence creates fearful thoughts in response to threat and positive thoughts in response to safety and wellbeing. These thoughts are created by us, for us and are about us but it is our level of conscious awareness that will determine our response. Whether we react or respond is up to us. The former comes from unconsciousness, the latter from conscious awareness.
During my epic struggles to defeat this so-called ‘enemy within’, an enemy that I came to know as anxiety, I turned to a therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy. My aim was to defeat this unwelcome foe not realizing that nothing needs to be defeated but just compassionately understood. I had read numerous books about cognition and behaviour and so I went to a therapist for treatment. The whole premise of the approach was that changing my thinking would change how I felt. With this approach, my egoic mind is viewed as the irrational, pathological and dysfunctional enemy. From a higher perspective, I now see that this is just putting the horse before the cart. If only it was that simple. It seemed that all I had to do was change my thoughts and I would live happily ever after. The reality was that my life was no fairytale and the time had come for me to own my own tale.
The truth is that it is how we feel about ourselves that determines what we think because emotion is always more powerful than reason, for a reason. Try reasoning with a person about to be devoured by a tiger. I have no doubt that some people have that tiger as a daily companion. I would bet that everywhere they go, there he is waiting to devour them. In fact, we all have our own tiger to face, a tiger that has as many shapes and forms as there are humans on this planet. What or who is your tiger?
The Stoics got it wrong. It’s not about suppressing your ego. Feelings are critically important. If you have low self-worth, your negative thinking will faithfully reflect that sense of feeling worthless. Worthless is an interesting adjective and is intimately linked to depression. Why do we see ourselves as worth less than others? Isn’t an act of comparison an act of rejection? Above all, our worthlessness alerts us to the tragedy of self-rejection. How we feel about ourselves determines what we think about ourselves. Therefore, there is a lot of worth in negative thinking because it illuminates the disconnection from our true authentic selves.
The truth is that feeling worthless has it’s worth and negative thinking is worthwhile. Can you see now why changing thinking changes nothing? In fact, to say that our thinking makes us miserable is like saying that the cock crowing at dawn causes the sun to rise. From a consciously aware viewpoint, negative thoughts have two very wise functions and to bypass them would be to bypass ourselves which is only repeating the mistake that has plagued humanity for aeons.
The concept of ego is a myth. Freud held out little hope for us humans. He was basically an inveterate pessimist. He saw the ego as sandwiched in between the roiling drives of the unconscious or id and the superego or conscience. He despaired for humanity and I guess its hard to blame him having lived in the most violent century of all times. However, I see things a little differently. Our unconscious is not an aggressive animal but actually a loving parent that creates the very thoughts and feelings that protect us. Sending them bubbling up into our conscious awareness, these messengers are alerting us to do the deeper work and act as grist to the mill of personal maturity and independence. We are the creators of this misunderstood creation.
For example, people are misunderstood as egomaniacs, egotistical or egocentric when really all they are is terrified, little children. Just look at some of our global heads of state. If you ask me they are still in nappies and are totally dependent on others for their very existence. Take Greece for example, a country that was once the cradle of civilisation that to me seems to be still in the cradle when you look at the immature and fear-based leadership that destroyed that country’s economy in recent years.
What does ego mean to you? Can you see that it’s really only a myth that confuses rather than infuses?
Its food 4 thought,